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  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Description

    Self-portrait of John Samuel Agar; nearly half-length in profile to right, wearing cravat, hair brushed slightly forwards Black and red chalk

  • Producer name

  • School/style

  • Date

    • 1776-1858
  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Height: 241 millimetres
    • Width: 191 millimetres
  • Inscriptions

      • Inscription Content

        Inscribed on a separate label with biographical details
  • Curator's comments

    The following text is from S. Lloyd and K. Sloan, 'The Intimate Portrait' (exh. SNPG & BM, 2008-9), cat. no. 67:

    'Few photographic illustrations are more reliable or informative than Agar's prints, which are the finest ever made of sculpture.' This was the verdict of Nicholas Penny in his description of Richard Payne Knight's Specimens of Ancient Sculpture, Aegyptian, Etruscan, Greek and Roman: Selected from different collections in Great Britain (1809).
    It was based largely on the sculpture collections of Payne Knight and Charles Townley, members of the Society of Dilettanti which had funded the publication of the volumes, and whose collections eventually came to the BM. They closely supervised the plates which were engraved in the stipple manner after drawings also made by Agar and praised Agar's skill in the accompanying text. He seems to have taken the decorative stipple technique to its greatest heights, not only in these prints of sculpture but also in prints after the Cosways and a series of allegories of the months by Edward Francis Burney (Ackermann, 1807-1809). He was also the engraver of several portraits for Cadell and Davies (see p. xxx).

    Specimens of Ancient Sculpture is without doubt one of the most magnificent books of the early nineteenth century. It was Agar's finest achievement but his name is little known and Foskett was even unclear whether there were two artists of this name. She noted that he entered the RA schools as an engraver at the age of 17 on the last day of 1792 and therefore set his date of birth as 1775 but the inscription on the present drawing from his descendants gives his dates as 1773-1858. In 1793 he received a silver presentation medal inscribed: 'The Honorary Pallet of the Society for Promoting Arts, Manufactures and Commerce' and on the reverse: 'To Mr J.S. Agar. For an Historical Drawing. Class 193. MDCCXCIII' (BM 1957,1012.19). There are two black chalk drawings in the collection that depict Greek and New Testament scenes that might fit this date.

    Agar exhibited historical drawings, portrait drawings and miniatures regularly at the RA from 1796 to 1806 and then at the British Institution to 1811 but he did not exhibit again until 1836 when he showed religious pictures regularly to 1851. He was Governor of the Society of Engravers in 1803 and in 1838 he was responsible for two of the magnificent hand-coloured aquatints in the re-issue of the Nash and Ackermann views of the interior of the Royal Pavilion at Brighton.

    Archer Oliver exhibited a portrait of Agar at the Royal Academy, London in 1811 but its whereabouts are not known. A collection of Agar's drawings, sketchbooks and albums remained in the hands of the descendant's of his wife Elizabeth Cruttwell of Hammersmith until 1933 when a profile self-portrait in pencil of c.1835 was presented to the NPG. Over the next few decades a number of works were sold and presented to the BM. An album of family portraits included a phrenological reading: 'Analysis of the Character of Mr Agar, 1832 Hertfordshire by Mrs Hamilton of Edinburgh and Regent Street' (BM 1954,0531.1 (1-27)). The present self-portrait is not dated but is probably from the 1810s when he was engraving portraits for Cadell and Davies. This very Regency portrait makes an interesting comparison with the later very sculptural, almost medal-like, simple profile in graphite in the NPG which acknowledges the changes of age in his lack of hair, undraped neck and shadows playing over his face.

    SELECTED LITERATURE: D. Foskett, 'Dictionary of British Miniature Painters', 1963; N. Penny and M. Clarke (eds.), 'The Arrogant Connoisseur', Manchester 1982, pp.7, 149, figs. 5, 37


  • Location

    Not on display (British Roy PV)

  • Exhibition history

    1966-7 BM, Recent Acquisitions, no.30
    2008/9 Oct-Jan, Edinburgh, SNPG, 'The Intimate Portrait', no. 67
    2009 Mar-May, London, BM, Room 90, 'The Intimate Portrait', no. 67

  • Subjects

  • Associated names

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Acquisition notes

    I G Crutwell-Abbott was a descendant of Elizabeth Cruttwell, Agar's wife.

  • Department

    Prints & Drawings

  • Registration number


Self-portrait of John Samuel Agar; nearly half-length in profile to right, wearing cravat, hair brushed slightly forwards Black and red chalk

Self-portrait of John Samuel Agar; nearly half-length in profile to right, wearing cravat, hair brushed slightly forwards Black and red chalk

Image description



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